Sucked into "business" with a crooked classmate, bowling fanatic Lamar Washington makes good money faking his skills, but when a disruptive prank reveals his new friend Billy’s duplicity, he realizes how wrong it was to aim to be “the smoothest baddest dude” in Coffin, Ind.
This refreshing first novel is told in the first person with plenty of snappy dialogue by a smart African-American middle-schooler whose asthma has kept him out of the usual sports and whose older brother, a basketball star, consistently taunts him. Lamar’s new friendship threatens both a longstanding one and a promising new relationship with a girl. Tension mounts as Lamar is drawn further into an unsavory gambling world, realizing that his cheating is wrong but thrilled to have the cash to buy a Bubba Sanders bowling ball. A final, seriously physical fight with his brother leads to climactic arrests. The drab rigidity of Camp Turnaround, where Billy is incarcerated, contrasts with the excitement of the bowling alley Lamar loves. His grounding and community service seem appropriate. His understanding of the consequences of his prank fire alarm, both for his brother and for his basketball-mad small town, comes slowly and realistically, and the solution of his family issues is satisfying.
This stands out for its unusual setting and smooth integration of friendship and family concerns. (Fiction. 10-14)